"No Good Deed Shall Go Unpunished"

To whom is this quote attributed originally? It’s difficult to google for it (and yes, I tried) because it’s become so commonplace that it’s the name of countless albums,bands, plays, poems, websites and the like.

For myself, I know that in the novel Justine by the Marquis de Sade, the character of Justine wails out to God that “She sees that no good deed, no act of virtue shall go unpunished.” I wish I had the book with me so I could put the full exact quote in here.

It just seems to perfect for this ideal to have originated with De Sade, although it seems to be the entire theme of the book, Justine or, the Misfortunes of Virtue.


DeSade wrote in French, and cannot be considered the source. The quotation, properly, is “No good deed goes unpunished.” The source is considerably later than DeSade; Clare Booth Luce said it in the 20th century. The meaning (a cynical comment on public service) is very different from anything DeSade might have meant.

Well, in fairness to DeSade, the phrase was used not in a sexual way. The character was bemoaning the fact that she’d done good for several people, strangers even and had been assaulted, raped and nearly killed as a result of it.

I found this, which seems a strange instance of paraphrasing:

Usually the first version is the serious one and the paraphrase the one with twisted logic.

I found this, but you are not going to buy it.

Why am I not going to buy it?

Interestingly, years ago I had usually seen it attributed to Clare Boothe Luce’s husband, Henry Luce, founder of Time-Life, although the internet is pretty much unanimous in attributing it to Clare. (Clare was better known for her aphorisms and bon mots, which would tend to point to her as the author–unless her reputation meant that people have just assumed that it was her phrase not his.

I wonder which of them prompted the other to coin the phrase?

bon mots what a great username that would be.